This is a great lesson in which to teach symmetry, line and patterns plus a dive into the South American culture.
The Sugar Skull is a symbol of Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, a holiday in November that honors the life of a loved one who has died. Here in Santa Barbara, there are festivals that celebrate this Mexican and South American holiday where children can decorate their own sugar skulls and other art activities. It’s truly a wonderful, family-oriented, not to mention very colorful event!
Drawing a Symmetrical Skull
I purchased a very cool coloring book at the beginning of the school year and used the drawings as a starter to this line drawing lesson. I photocopied about 5 different front-view skulls from the coloring book and allowed each child to choose their own skull. Divide coloring book photo-copy in half vertically, aligning the two sides of the skull and not the paper corners. You want to see half of the skull.
Fold 12″ x 9″ drawing paper in half vertically and draw the contour line of the skull with a black marker. Draw circles/ovals for eyes, nose shape and teeth.
Tracing the Skull
Fold the paper so that the skull drawing is now on the inside. The paper should look like a book with the front cover blank and the inside should show the skull drawing. When the paper is closed, the skull lines will show through the front paper. Trace over these lines then invert the paper and retrace the lines. Confused? It’s easier to do it than explain it! Once you show your students, they will understand right away, so don’t over think it.
It sometimes helps to trace the lines up against a sunny window. This isn’t completely necessary but the kids loved getting out of their chairs and moving around.
Drawing the Sugar Skull Details
Now that the child has a head complete with scary eyes, a nose and some teeth, they can mix and match the photocopies and add their own decorations. Most students in 5th grade will have the drawing skills to create a really good skull but many won’t. To help the kids make sharp lines, sit down with the “scribblers” and show how to connect lines and not leave lines hanging.
Coloring the Sugar Skulls
I just purchased packs of Prismacolor markers. They are wonderful despite the fact that over a dozen were damaged (no ink!). The kids colored in each shape. Some decided to leave the skull white while others colored the entire skull.
Flowers, especially marigolds, are a big part of Day of the Dead. The idea is to cut flower shapes from colored paper and place around the skull. To start, kids cut their sugar skulls from the white paper and glued to a 11″ x 14″ sheet of black paper. Then they added the flowers around the skull.
I set up a table in the back of the room with scissors, glue and some mod podge. At first I allowed the kids to add their own glitter then realized what a bad idea that was, so I quickly switched the glitter to another table. The kids added glue details at the big table and then walked over to me to sprinkle glitter over selected flowers. Much better.
The range of details in the sugar skulls is fascinating. Some kids went very simple with the coloring of the sugar skulls just to get to the flowers and glitter stage (that would be me) while others decided flower and glitter wasn’t their thing (and it wasn’t necessarily a gender thing).
This is a sampling of some of the finished work. Most kids finished coloring and cutting out their skulls in two, 50-minute class times, while others will need another 30 minutes to finish the flower details.